Florida faculty question if they can hire grad students from ‘countries of concern’

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Dive Brief:

  • Faculty at the University of Florida are pressing their leadership for clarification on if a new state law prevents them from hiring international graduate students from countries like China and Iran for assistantship positions.  
  • Earlier this year, the state began requiring its public colleges to seek permission before working with so-called “countries of concern.” But university department chairs have issued differing instructions on how this impacts international graduate student recruitment, faculty said in a letter to university leaders.
  • To avoid further confusion, the group is seeking an explicit edict from the administration allowing the university to recruit graduate assistants regardless of their nationality. As of Tuesday afternoon, the letter drew over 300 signatures, according to a public list.

Dive Insight:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the law in May, citing a desire to curb Chinese influence over U.S. higher education. The law also restricts colleges’ partnerships with Iran, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela.

Colleges can partner with these countries only after getting approval from their system’s board — in the University of Florida’s case, the State University System of Florida.

But conflicting messages have left faculty unsure about how they can approach international graduate student recruitment, they said in the letter to President Ben Sasse, along with the university’s provost, associate provost and faculty senate chair. 

“Attracting top international graduate students with assistantship is crucial for enhancing the research quality at our university, which in turn influences UF’s international reputation, competitiveness, and rankings,” the letter said. “Restrictions on recruiting from these countries could significantly reduce our applicant pool, adversely affecting UF’s long-term success and research quality.”

More than 1,000 students from affected countries enroll each fall in the University of Florida’s graduate programs, the letter said. In fall 2020 alone, the university enrolled 1,100 graduate students from China, according to institutional data.

Faculty said they need immediate clarification on how to proceed. Otherwise, the strongest applicants may elect to study and work at different universities, they said. 

The letter added that such an outcome might erode the University of Florida’s international standing and impede Sasse’s stated goal of improving its rankings.



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